Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about the 1%. The 1% is comprised of people making $569,944 per year and up. Becoming part of the 1% could be inherited or attained through post-secondary education. For the purpose of this article we will discuss the means to achieve this great wealth through education. In other words, these are the majors you should choose if you want to become part of the top 1% of earners. There are two different questions to consider:

  • Which college majors provide the best statistical chance of entering the 1%?
  • What percentage of these college majors fall into the 1%?

The Best Chance to Become a Member of the 1%
According to a 2010 American Community Survey, the top five degrees for becoming a member of the 1% are:

Health and Medical Prep
The professional field with the most members of the 1% is health and medical preparatory field. It is reported that 11.8% of people holding a degree in this field are in the 1%. These professionals make so much money largely due to three factors: the cost of their education, the difficulty and specialization of knowledge required, and malpractice insurance costs.

Holders of this degree will largely be employed by financial firms, consulting firms, insurance firms and the government. Most positions regarding economics require a higher level of education. This level of education and business sectors combine to provide a high salary. About 8.2% of economic degree holders are in the top 1%.

Biochemical Sciences
The job prospects for a holder of a biochemical degree are vast and include medicine, dentistry, veterinary sciences, biotechnology and pharmaceutical-related disciplines. Similar to health and medical preparatory degrees, the reasons for a relatively higher chance to be in the 1% are the cost to attain these degrees, the specialization of knowledge required to perform the tasks and insurance. There are many biochemical science degree holders in the top 1%. In fact, about 7.2% of them.

Zoologists have a wide array of career paths available to them from working in a zoo to working for the government. Another interesting factor is the state and metropolitan area where a zoologist operates. Zoologists working in the District of Columbia lead the country by making a median of nearly $200,000, which suggests the federal government pays zoologists the highest salaries. About 6.9% of zoology degree holders are in the top 1%.

The traditional realms of biology such as teaching, research and environment conservation are not likely to conjure expectations of high salaries. Biology however has evolved and can now offer opportunities in biotechnology, politics and business realms. These new frontiers are likely to be responsible for the higher salaries garnered to break into the 1%. Biology is the fifth most popular degree among the top 1%, and about 6.7% of those holding it are in the top 1%.

International Relations
About 6.7% of those holding an international relations degree make a top 1% income. Employment in this field varies and can include working in business, government, journalism, teaching, and international service for large multinational organizations like the United Nations or the Red Cross.

Political Science
Similar to obtaining a biology degree, political science majors traditionally are not seen as wealthy career paths. However, the opportunity to pursue law and senior management consulting exists. These professional careers could likely lead to an entrance into the 1%, and about 6.2% of political science degree holders already are in the 1%.

The Bottom Line
Although graduates should focus on selling practical skills along with their degrees, some degrees will offer better chances for becoming a top earner. Many of these degrees have a few common characteristics: the cost of education, specialization of the knowledge and the ability to pursue professional designations. The ability to pursue a post-secondary education helps to guide students into the 1% by providing many different opportunities in highly-skilled work.

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